Wednesday, July 13, 2005

You either love what you do or you don't. Period.

The following is a big ol' whine-purge. Brace yourselves.

The other day I G00gled, "what should I do with my life," because everybody knows that G00gle has the answers to the everyday existential crisis. I found an article, from a man who had written a book titled the same as my question. From my understanding, the article's intended audience was the tie-wearing, 60-hour-a-week-working, hardcore corporate business types- not so much someone in my industry. It read mostly as a touchy-feely, buy-my-book piece, but I did come away with a few kernels of thought as a result.

"There are far too many smart, educated, talented people operating at quarter speed, unsure of their place in the world...people who look like they have their act together but have yet to make an impact...It comes down to a simple gut check: You either love what you do or you don't. Period.

Those who are lit by that passion are the object of envy among their peers and the subject of intense curiosity. They are the source of good ideas. They make the extra effort. They demonstrate the commitment...they will be rewarded. With money, sure, and responsibility, undoubtedly. But with something even better too: the kind of satisfaction that comes with knowing [their] place in the world... "

This made me think, once again, of the friend who is in tax consulting- and absolutely devours what she does for a living. She doesn't think twice about how much she works, because she loves what she does- with a passion. I, on the other hand, have this mantra running through my head: "I don't fit here."

"Of course, addressing the question, What should I do with my life? isn't just a productivity issue: It's a moral imperative...That choice isn't about a career search so much as an identity quest. Asking The Question aspires to end the conflict between who you are and what you do... "

I hate the question, "So, what do you do?" I loathe it, I despise it- all for the simple reason that it is usually followed by the statement, "oh, that must be fun!" On the surface, "I'm an architect" sounds pretty cool, right? Underneath, I feel like a hypocrite. I want to reply, "it's a paycheck," because that's all it is to me. One of my professors used to talk constantly of passion for architecture; the truth is, I simply don't have any.

When I started college, I denied myself the route I really wanted to take- being an art major. I was afraid- of what my parents would say, afraid I wouldn't get a job, afraid I wouldn't be "good enough" to work in the artistic world. It is one of my biggest regrets that I didn't at least try.

"What am I good at? is the wrong starting point. People who attempt to deduce an answer usually end up mistaking intensity for passion. To the heart, they are vastly different. Intensity comes across as a pale busyness, while passion is meaningful and fulfilling. A simple test: Is your choice something that will stimulate you for a year or something that you can be passionate about for 10 years?"

When I started architecture school, I was good at it. Really good. The first semester, I made a 4.0 GPA. I thought that architecture passed the 10-year test. I had no idea that the culture of academic architecture and the culture of employment were in stark opposition to each other. I found out the hard truth near the end of my degree program, but I felt I had no choice but to continue on the path- I couldn't start over, so close to the end!! Today, I see that it was indeed intensity, and not passion, that kept me going. I made great grades, but it was painful. Pain, however, was part of the architecture school culture- if you weren't suffering, you weren't trying hard enough.

"Every industry has a culture. And every culture is driven by a value system...once you're rooted in a particular's often agonizingly difficult to unravel yourself from its values, practices, and rewards...If you're successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and opportunity can lock you in forever."

I'm good at what I do, but I hate it. Healthcare architecture is stifled by so many regulations, requirements, conservative clients, ad nauseum. Sometimes I think that I'm just in the wrong specialty of architecture; that if I could work on banks, fire stations, or even houses; that I would like it better. The problem is, once you've specialized for a few years, nobody wants to give you the chance to try a different specialty. You're too valuable in the specialty you already know.

"Probably the most debilitating obstacle to [answering "what should I do with my life?"] is the fear that making a choice is a one-way ride, that starting down a path means closing a door forever."

This is especially true. There are remnants of a plan in my head, but with the plan comes the doubt. If I abandon architecture, should I keep my license? Will I want it later? If I don't keep it renewed, I'd have to take the exams over again- and that's not going to happen. If I go back to school, what will happen if it doesn't work out? Will any firm "take me in" with a year (or longer) gap in my architectural employment history?

How will my story end? Will I travel to Rome, to see the Pantheon, and then leap to my death through the oculus, giving the finger to the industry on my way down? That makes a nice, overly dramatic ending to a book, perhaps. Truthfully, I'd much rather become the person that others in my position look at and say, "that CAD Monkey, she's my hero. She figured out her career was killing her soul, and rescued it by (insert: whatever the hell I finally decide to do)."



Kent said...

Oh poor Cad Monkey. I'm not sure if this comforts you but I think this post sums up how MANY MANY people in our industry, let alone all corporate droans feel. You are not alone. The only advice I can give you is first of all fuck all outside influences and criticism. For example who cares what some possible future employer might think about a gap in architectural employment. You have to please yourself first before you please others. Second I say try EVERYTHING. If you don't fit in with your current firm find another that you think you would fit in better at. I really think instead of doing what your good at for a career you should do what you enjoy instead. You can always learn how to do something better.

I wasn't happy at my last job at a large firm. So I went the opposite and came here to a TINY firm. I'm realizing I don't like this either so now I'm looking for something else. Keep looking you'll find it soon enough.

Oh and one final thought. I know its a little cliche but... Life isn't about the destination its about the journey...

Anonymous said...

This sounds like excerpts from the book by Po Bronson. It's actually a really good book with some interesting stories.

However, I don't really agree with his idea that "You either love what you do or you don't. Period." That's a little black and white, don't you think? It's true that right now, you hate what you do and you definitely need to change something. But I think it's unrealistic to think that there is a job out there that you will "love, period". I don't know anyone who has a job like that. And I think very few people are lucky enough to have a passion that readily translates into a job.

I just answered the question for myself by asking not "What do I want to do with my life" but "what can I handle doing, day after day, for a lot of years in a row?" Because, you know, work isn't your life. Work is what you do to be able to afford the rest of your life. I am passionate about my family, my husband, my dog, movies, quilting, and hiking. (Oh, and chocolate.) But during the day, I'm a librarian! And that's fine. Maybe with a job, it's better to aim for simple contentment, rather than for 'passion' or 'love'. :-)

Kerri said...

Oh my god, I am completely relating to this post. What the hell do I do? I ask myself that question on a daily basis. I work at a Fortune 100 company managing communication programs and I feel like my soul is suffocating. But I have no idea what comes next. Thanks for sharing and giving me a little nudge to keep asking the question and trying to find an answer.